In terms that are current to our times, many of my peers were “woke.” Like now, you could be “woke” to one group and un-cool to another that considered themselves to be “woke.” Being that it’s a mental state of cultural and political awareness, you can harbor pockets of very un-woken thought and behavior. Then, as well as now, the most transcendentally aware of the “woken” ones will deny this. Perfection is a hard act. But denial is a human trait that is hard to eradicate.

Back then – the 1960s through ’70’s -being politically and socially “woke” in one sense did not necessarily mean that you were enlightened in others. Probably the best-known example of this for Beats, Folkies, and Hippies I knew was un-woke behavior towards women. It didn’t seem to sink in that being active in the Civil Rights movement while treating your spouse as a domestic slave was hypocrisy. Even when that person self-emancipated and left you, the behavior continued. “Hey, sweetie, get us some more beer!”

Then, as now, it was easier to declare that anyone not as apparently “woke” as you couldn’t have valuable perspectives. As a species, we seem to reinvent the cure to universal ills generationally. Just too easy, I say.

It may be as Ecclesiastes states that: 

What has been will be again,

 what has been done will be done again;

 there is nothing new under the sun.


<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">My workbench is always a mess when I am in the middle of a carving project. But this one was different. It was a small job that I was doing as a favor for Spinney. It only required a few gouges and a knife to finish what the original carver had set out years ago. For about fifty years, the unfinished transom carving had perched in the paint shop's rafters at Spinney's boatyard. Only the last two letters remained uncarved when I removed the half-century of dust. My workbench is always a mess when I am in the middle of a carving project. But this one was different. It was a small job that I was doing as a favor for Spinney. It only required a few gouges and a knife to finish what the original carver had set out years ago. For about fifty years, the unfinished transom carving had perched in the paint shop’s rafters at Spinney’s boatyard. Only the last two letters remained uncarved when I removed the half-century of dust. 

“You know, Spinney. You were a pretty good carver. Maybe you should have kept it up?” ” No offense Wes, but it doesn’t pay enough.” I laughed. If it paid enough, I wouldn’t be helping to haul boats, apply bottom paint, and varnish at a boatyard. “So why after fifty years, are we finishing the carving up?” ” It’s a surprise for a little girl.” He told me. 

 I finished Y and the R, did a bit of clean up sanding, primed the board with thinned marine varnish, and left it to dry. Daily I added another coat of varnish, being careful to leave the incised lettering clean and crisp. After nine coats, it was ready for painting the lettering and the gold leaf. The morning after finishing the gold leaf, it disappeared. I heard nothing more about it for almost a month. Then one day, Spinney invited me to a small relaunching ceremony. 

The little sloop had sat awash in a local cove for years. The summer visitor who had owned it had left it for a fast powerboat. In an act of sheer waste, he had abandoned the sloop. It had sat there gradually deteriorating and getting stripped of all hardware and rigging. Spinney hated waste and was uncommonly capable of seeing hidden value. Spinney was also cheap. He paid pennies for the right to salvage the sloop. We hauled it to the boatyard and gradually restored it. As summer arrived, we finished the rigging and sails.

Even though it was Sunday, the entire crew showed up for the relaunch. Nobody likes an unresolved mystery, and Spinney always held his cards close to his chest. So we knew little that he didn’t want us to know about his business. The sloop fell into that category, and we wanted to know.

The new owners were an older woman, nearly Spinney’s age, and what must be her granddaughter. We overheard snatches of a conversation between the woman and Spinney: ” Maynard, do you think she’s old enough?”, “You and I were at the same age, Nora. And I’ll give her lessons.” the young woman, about thirteen, was already getting ready to undo the mooring line and raise the mainsail. She seemed to know what she was about and wasn’t waiting for lessons. “Uncle Maynard, let’s hurry up. I want to go sailing.” Ah, uncle Maynard, Spinney’s grandniece, and that’d make the older woman Spinney’s long-absent sister Nora who the whole town knew had split from the family for reasons unknown.

” Uncle Maynard, do I start working at the boatyard tomorrow?” With a broad smile, Spinney replied: “Absolutely. You’ll start at the bottom, Wes will teach you how to scrape, sand, and paint boat bottoms.” With this said, Spinney stepped onto the sloop and shoved off the dock.

Zephyr shook out her mainsail and was on the breeze. And I had gained an apprentice.

Stay Just a Little Bit Longer

It was a very in-between time. I was mostly on my own, spending time in the Village, but still traveling uptown to my friends in the Bronx and Riverside. I was still very much in love with Danielle, Danny, but she had her sights firmly set on Harvard while mine was set on, well I don’t know what. I was between visions of the world and would be for several more years. In the meantime, I was experiencing a life my academically inclined friends would never comprehend. In college, they would read “On the Road” by Kerouac. I would live on the road and tell you where Jack cut out the good parts. But that was still in my future.

Tonight I was on my way to my last date with Danny. We both agreed that it was time to end it. Reluctantly on my part, firm and resolute on hers. Harvard was only part of it. Her parents dreaded the though to me as a possible son in law. Danny, could not see a future in which I behaved like a responsible adult. And I couldn’t see a future in which I acted like the responsible adult they expected. So the end.

As a group, we were going to a dance. Looking back to that time, it’s interesting to see all my friends emerging from adolescence into adulthood. Clint had a job at Xerox. Michelle was continuing her study of dance, and Danny was looking forward to the fall semester at Harvard. Young adults in the offing.

I have few memories of the dance itself. Things resolved into focus when the band began to play the song “Stay.” That song made whole my feelings about the night, the relationship, and my hopes for a future I was cut off from. One part of me wanted to drag time backward to have again what we all had had together, but of course, I couldn’t.

None of us could “stay.” We were all little eighteen-year-old rocketships bound to see the universe.


Lefkowitz moved from something similar to a Bach fugue to an interlude that morphed into a 12 bar blues. Mitch provided some impromptu lyrics, and Sue did some neat things with her soprano voice. I had a bad cold and sore throat, so I just sipped my extra-large tea with honey. After Lefkowitz finished up, Mitch picked out one of his tunes for us. Sue followed up with one of her favorite Scottish ballads. 

It was a quiet Monday night in the Village. Monday and Tuesday tended to be slow, and on Wednesday, things picked up heading into the weekend. Monday was a good time to experiment with friends. Several other groups at the Rienzi were doing likewise. Over in a corner, a clutch of poets was critiquing a colleague’s latest work, and near the door a pair of sketch artists were drawing the scene in the Cafe Rienzi’s music room.

A clearing of the throat announced a stranger at our table. He snubbed the men at the table while shuffling in a chair between Lefkowitz and Sue. Portly, bearded, and looking like a down at the heels professor of lit, he began to take issue with Sue’s diction and accent on her version of “The Bonnie Earl of Moray.” He was in full blather about how the McEwan version was the one she should emulate. Sue sat there smiling slightly, apparently not knowing if this was the intro to a come-on or just another deranged Village tourist who couldn’t find his tour bus and was now stuck in the inmates’ asylum. On he went, and when we all assumed he must come to a pause, on he continued.

Mitch picked up a discarded New York Times and began finishing the prior reader’s crossword puzzle. Lefkowitz started to miming “yada, yada, yada, yada,” while pretending to be before a class delivering a lecture.

Mitch looked up at me and loudly asked, ” Wes, what’s a 12 letter word for an idiot who endlessly natters on about uninteresting topics?” This one I knew. When he isn’t playing coffeehouses, Mitch is a grad student in sociolinguistics. Mitch is my primary source for obscure words that might sound insulting, and this was his word of the day for me on Friday. I pretended to think deeply about this while everyone at the table watched. “Why, that would have to be Blatherskite!” I croaked.

Mitch looked pleased with me, but looked over to our unwanted companion and said, ” It is derived from the 17th century Scots Bleatherskate, but of course, sir being all-knowing on things Scots, you knew that.”

Sue began laughing, Lefkowitz picked up his harmonica and began playing the Bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Loman as a blues. I choked, and Mitch slapped me hard on the back. Our unwanted guest had the wits to take his chair to the corner and bother the poets.


I was standing watching the waves roll in at Rockport. Last night had been stormy, and the waves were long rollers sweeping in from the Atlantic. From where I stood, there was no land between Europe and me. That much water is both exciting and daunting.
For me, fall starts with the shift of prevailing winds out of the soft southwesterly of summer into more unsettled patterns.
It’s a season of change. For the landlocked, the features they notice most are the cooler evenings and leaves turning. But I’d maintain that the grey waters, persistent lines of rolling waves, and the wet spume are better markers.
Now is the best time to walk the tide line. Following the storm, tides bring in kelp, driftwood, sea glass, and old wreckage bits. All are on display. The worn bits of sea glass provide proof that given time, the sea will wear everything down.
Find a warm berth in some shoreside cafe, get a mug of coffee, and watch the inevitable.

Labor Day

If you are “from away,” you may have driven past a little ritual on route 95 near the Maine and New Hampshire border. At the end of the Labor Day holiday, some local folks hang out banners over the highway’s last stretch into New Hampshire. Some are polite expressions “see you again next year.” some are less polite and express the desire that you permanently exit to New York or Massachusetts. There are mixed feelings about the dependence on tourist dollars. The income is needed, but the desire not to have a way of life and the environment swamped by the annual influx causes some conflicting emotions.
While living along the Maine coast, I always had an ambivalence to the whole thing. First, I was from New York, the ultimate “from away” location, but I was “married in” due to my wife and her family. They’d been there since before the first Census. Nobody was going to call the Capn’s son in law a Summer Complaint. I also worked the same jobs everyone else did and did not have the money and leisure that many visitors had. All this got complicated by the fact that my natural New York accent was fading over the years in New England, and I was picking up and using local English. I was not a native, but I was not a New Yorker anymore, either.
What happened one day at the boatyard where I worked illustrates the issue.
Spinney and the yard crew were especially amused when folks from New York City would take me for a local. Spinney jokingly suggested that one Brooklynite ask me how locals pronounced items. If my looks could have killed, Spinney would have dropped on the spot. But I dutifully rendered the local pronunciation of things in my most inauthentic Maine accent. I felt like a performing dog. Off to one side, the crew struggled to keep straight faces. When done, I tried to explain to them that I was from Manhattan. They laughed so hard they turned red. Afterward, I promised Spinney that I’d get even.
Spinney turned to me and said: “now you know how we all feel when they ask us how lobster is pronounced, or how we say Bar Harbor. We’ve done you a big favor Wes…you don’t ask for “kaufee” anymore first thing in the morning.”
OK, I guess he had a point.

Annual Festival Of wood

So. How does a sophisticated New Yorker – like me, wind up gleefully chucking multiple cords of wood into stacks for burning in his wood stove? I, who as a child, never even touched a thermostat? An apartment dweller in a large apartment house? It was a gradual submission to life in New England.

I seriously began cutting and splitting wood for my wife’s elderly grandmother. She lived in an 18th-century house that had been built before the word insulation had been coined. For Grandma, I cut, split, and stacked about seven cords a year. The year of Katrina, we purchased the house we currently own, and my first act was to install a wood stove. Being older, I began buying my wood cut and split, but I still had to stack. I decided to call the annual event, The Festival of Wood. I invited friends, neighbors, and family to join the festival: free beverages and pizza. They all thought the drinks and pizza part was fantastic, but I was the one stacking the six cords of wood.

This attitude, I don’t understand. Wood stacking is a beautiful fall activity. The days are getting cooler, the leaves start turning, and your mind turns to days snug in front of the fire while the gale howls outside. 

I have found that neighbors seek to “borrow” wood when the power goes out, and their heat is non-existent, and that family cheerfully visit on snowy days, stuff themselves with goodies, and hog the fire. But, stack wood? Nope.

So I am going to go the cross fit route. I will charge for supervising wood hauling and stacking exercise sessions. You have to use arm, shoulder, hand, legs – all your body to do this. I’ll coach – ” you call that a stack?” then I’ll topple it, and they’ll start over. For this, I’ll quadruple what my wood guy charges me for the wood, and add the “coaching fees” on top. Now I can afford the vacation to someplace warm in February and to hell with filling the stove.

Bright, Hot Lights

The guitarist spent time warming up while I prepared my video and audio recording equipment. Finally, a chord rang out. ” Your high E is just a bit sharp,” I said, not thinking for a moment that I had not performed for about fifty years. She grinned and checked that string; ‘just a bit sharp,” she agreed.
We were recording in the old Meeting House. They designed the buildings as centers for religion and to be the center of Town government – in those days, in much of New England, religion and Town government were the same. Being that a significant part of the Town population might squeeze in, they designed for good acoustics: no microphones, no amplifiers, and no speakers in those days. These days it’s used mostly for weddings and performances.
Acoustics aside, air currents, hot lights, and temperature differences create problems. The lower end of your guitar lives in one temperature zone, and the tuning heads at the top of the neck live in another. The lower tension, more heavily wound bass E, A, and D strings seem less affected. The treble strings are under more strain and are thinner – they seem to be the source of most issues.
For a while, I am back in the music room of Rienzi’s Coffehouse in the Village. The wound G string rather than breaking on my classical guitar always let’s go gradually as its outer wrapping unwinds. I am hurriedly placing a new string and stretching it out as carefully as I can – new strings have lots of excess stretch, and will go out of tune at the worst possible moment; in the middle of a song. The B and high E both need replacement, but that will have to wait until I buy new strings. Being that I am pretty busy at the coffeehouses this spring, that means almost every week.
When I get to my gig at the Dragon’s Den, I can almost feel the treble strings go out of tune as I step into the hot lights that shine down on the performer’s little stage. Our “green room” for preparation is a barely heated cubby with a draft. You know that any tuning you do here is a waste of time in February.
I am back in 2020, the guitarist and I discuss how capo’s change tuning and how you have to retune after placing it and after taking it off. Capo’s are little adjustable bars that fit over your guitar’s neck. They help change the key while staying in a fingering style you prefer. but there is a cost to everything. Your tuning ican be affected. Even more so if the neck of the guitar is not absolutely straight.
It is pleasant to just for a moment, step back, and realize that some things have not yielded to either technology or years.

Facebook Endings

Endings can be full of angst or be quiet fadeaways. The angst-ridden ones are the ones that leave the sharpest of memory. Sometimes it’s the quiet ones that get you awake at four AM with tears in your eyes because you had no chance to say goodbye.
Yelling out your distaste for someone has a much more final feel to it than two people just gradually drifting apart, never noticing when the fade is so complete that you have trouble calling their face to mind.
As I said, it just fades away, until one morning you awake with tears in your eyes because that back part of your mind never really went along with the front of your mind. That one section refused to forget. You get up to stumble to the computer and enter the name in a search; about a hundred possibles pop up. You refine the search on Facebook, and there she is. Like you, she is fifty years older, happily married, mother, and grandmother. The lines of happiness are etched on the features that you almost remember. In the profile photo, she stands next to her husband, who you also almost recognize.
You pause over the tab to send a friend request, think about it, and then move to Messenger.
In the end, you smile and stumble back to bed, happy that things turned out well. Not a bad end at all.


Some types of membership are purchased. Your “wholesale” club is the best example I can think off the top of my head. Some are by invitation. You have to be invited to join many clubs; you can’t just walk up to the door, knock and hand them a check. But clearly, those lofty institutions that are by invitation only are also restrictive by income: initiation fees, annual fees, or clubhouse fees. Can’t pay the bill, don’t accept the invitation to join.
As a starving undergrad, I spent an inordinate time in some of the most exclusive clubs in the Boston area; and I do not mean as a busboy or waiter.

I found that the easiest way to help pay my tuition at Boston University’s evening Metropolitan College was to work days as a personal attendant to older “gentlemen,” Their families wanted them lightly supervised while going to the club. I quietly stood by if they needed assistance, or to pour them discreetly into the cab after they had overindulged. For this, I was not loved nor respected by my charges. I sat in the back, ignored. I was frequently vilified and sometimes left behind.
Staff at private clubs are used to people acting in the role of an unappreciated aide de camp. Frequently escorted to private dining rooms to eat with others like myself, the chef seemed pleased to serve us. It was through this means that I was introduced to many foods that I could not afford to buy. Hell, at the sort of establishment I could afford, they’d never have heard of the entrees.
The staff of many of the clubs expected to be teated in a patronizing manner, I watched as many of them were openly ignored and disrespected. A favored technique that I later witnessed frequently at the University of Pennsylvania was the “cut.” Properly executed, the cutter passes the cuttee while looking slightly off to the right and above the shoulder. The eyes barely miss the cuttee’s face. It’s disrespectful and meant to imply that you are beneath notice.

I did this type of work for two years. I gained an insight into caste and class that I did not have previously. and came to agree wholeheartedly with Groucho Marx’s comment that if invited, I would refuse “…to join any club that would have me as a member.”

%d bloggers like this: